The Lisbon Valley Copper Mine hopes to add a quarter-century of life to the troubled operation roughly 40 miles southeast of Moab by using an experimental extraction method that calls for pumping water and sulfuric acid into the ground through a ring of injection wells. The acid would dissolve copper from rock and then the solution would be pumped back to the surface where it would be separated.
The company met with the public in October and is currently going through the permitting and environmental assessment phases of the project.
While far less invasive than open pit mining, which is what Lisbon Valley’s current permits are for, the in situ method is not without controversy. According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, San Juan County residents and environmentalists expressed concerns over water contamination and other issues during a public outreach effort Dec. 5.
The San Juan Record reported on a similar meeting held in October. Company officials say the method is environmentally sound, according to the Tribune, and that it will add jobs in a county that desperately needs them.
The county itself is in a deep financial hole – in part thanks to the mine being years in arrears on taxes to the tune of millions of dollars. The San Juan County Commission recently agreed to waive about $250,000 in late fees and interest.
The Tribune reports the first pilot project will be installed in 2021. Eventually, roughly 2,700 wells will be drilled into the aquifer.